Column: Dan Clark preparing for big summer with Great Britain

Embed from Getty Images

After inking a deal with Liga Endesa side Zaragoza and declaring himself available to a depleted Great Britain squad for Eurobasket 2013, Dan Clark had a lot to look forward to – a new challenge with a Eurocup side in the shape of Zaragoza – and a summer leading a GB side missing the services of Luol Deng, Joel Freeland and Pops Mensah-Bonsu.

Then in a cruel twist, Zaragoza’s medical team deemed Clark unfit following an old ankle injury and requested the forward undergo surgery. They announced that the Greenwich-born youngster would be out for two months – meaning that he would miss Great Britain’s Eurobasket campaign.

The cult-like British basketball community was hit hard. Lottery funded UK Sport, an agency that funds sports at an elite level set the nation’s basketball team a goal to finish in the top six in Slovenia or risk losing all funding to the national teams.

Then on August 31, Dan Clark was included in the final GB squad for Slovenia, which was met with both excitement and surprise. Many believed that Clark’s “replacement” Liam Potter, a little known big man, who found success playing in Denmark would be in the final draft.

Potter instead was the final cut and Clark was going to Eurobasket, without playing a single warm-up game for Great Britain.

Before Britain’s opening game of Eurobasket against Israel in Ljubljana, many journalists, including myself flocked around Clark at the morning shoot around. Many were there to ask the 6’11” forward about his fitness and how he was feeling? Were there fitness issues because of the lack of training and would he be ready to be the team’s lead anchor?

He assured everyone that he was fit and that Zaragoza would be dealt with after the tournament, mainly due to releasing confidential information about the player without Clark’s permission as was claimed.

Despite an obvious lack of match practice, Clark had a solid outing for the outsiders from Britain, for whom many thought would end Eurobasket with a 0-5 record. They instead finished 2-3, narrowly missing out on qualification by losing to the surprise package of the entire tournament Ukraine, who finished sixth overall.

Clark gave Zaragoza’s medical staff the proverbial middle finger, en route to averaging 12 points and 6 rebounds a game, resulting in Euroleague side Laboral Kutxa to sign Clark on a short-term deal. A deal that lasted just one game as Clark injured his right knee and was subsequently released by the club.

October was to be Clark’s last month of competitive action.

While he was getting his body back up to scratch, the British basketball community was informed that the failure to reach the goals set by UK Sport over the summer had resulted in British Basketball having its funding completely withdrawn. This was a devastating blow to the international game, which had shown remarkable improvements over the last seven years.

With no funding, British basketball fan Sam Neter, who runs a British basketball website called Hoopsfix organised a showcase day where a number of British-born players came together to play in an All-Star game at Brunel University in Middlesex, in a gym that seated no more than 500 people maximum.

Clark came out of the wilderness to participate in the Hoopsfix All-Star Classic and swapped arenas for a gym where a three-point attempt meant that upon landing after your shot release, you had a good chance of colliding with the media table or worse yet, a spectator’s foot.

Thankfully, the latter never occurred, but the table will just about live to fight another day.

The Londoner had obviously used his prolonged time away wisely. He got up and down the floor well and shot the ball nicely too. But he was playing at the All-Star Classic for British basketball. He wasn’t getting paid for playing there. Just contributing to the Hoopsfix Foundation, which is a newly set up not-for-profit charity with the sole purpose of growing and raising the profile of the game of basketball in Britain.

“I’m not here to stake a claim that I’m fit, nor am I here for financial or promotional gain, I’m here to support British hoops and to help Sam [Neter] with this event, which is directed to help promote the game of basketball here in Great Britain,” Clark said.

“The Hoopsfix Classic proved as well that there is a decent standard of players in this country, no matter where we play and we put on a great game for everyone here. We want the rest of the world to know that we can compete with the best nations but we need the funding to do that because the world works if you have money for support and we don’t want British basketball to fizzle out.”

While Sam Neter and his Hoopsfix Foundation continue to help British basketball on their side, Clark’s attention will now lean on Great Britain’s Eurobasket Qualifiers, which begin on August 10 with a trip to Reykjavik to face Iceland. The other team in the qualifying round is Bosnia & Herzegovina – a team that Clark had his breakout game against in a Eurobasket Qualifying Round game back in the summer of 2010.

Before that game in Sarajevo, Clark was a regular on the bench. He didn’t have the chance to experience any minutes at GB’s first competitive tournament at Eurobasket in 2009, so Clark, fresh from a season’s work at Estudiantes was given the opportunity to prove his worth for the Brits 12 months later.

And Clark took his chance and delivered as he finished with a game-high 23 points in the Bosnian capital, which helped Great Britain to an 84-80 win, thus announcing himself properly on the international stage. It was a game that he remembers well.

“I remember stepping off the bus and into the arena that day and I was counting how many bullet holes were there,” Clark recalls. “Luol Deng was with us then and he was taken back as well. It was definitely a surreal environment but our job was a get a win and we got it. I was happy with my performance and with it being a breakout game on the international stage, it’s a game I remember well and I remember that game as one that I just felt comfortable in. My team-mates were helping me, I shot the ball with confidence and everything for me and the team clicked. I’m looking forward to going back there this summer and helping my team hopefully get the same result as well.”

It’ll be a different Great Britain line-up this summer compared to 2010 though. Nate Reinking, and Robert Archibald have gone on to retire, and Pops Mensah-Bonsu’s international status is still a mystery.

Clark was hesitant in his answer but hopeful on the chances of Deng and Portland Trailblazers forward Joel Freeland playing this summer.

“We’ll see,” he said. “I’m hopeful – and confident but time will tell.”